Delhi's municipal schools need more than a cosmetic makeover: can AAP deliver?

The expectations from AAP are huge when it comes to remedying the learning crisis looming over the 8.7 lakh students studying at Municipal Corporation of Delhi schools.

Published: 24th December 2022 03:43 PM  |   Last Updated: 24th December 2022 03:44 PM   |  A+A-

Students, exams, classes, education, future

Image used for representational purposes only. (Express Illustrations)

While the recently concluded MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) election was not fought or won over freebies and overtly populist policies, a key highlight of the Aam Aadmi Party's manifesto was the guarantee to deliver world-class education. In the run-up to the polls, leaders from the AAP took the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party to task over evidence of broken furniture, lack of staff, and poor hygiene in some of the MCD-run primary schools. The abysmal outward appearance of the schools naturally raises concerns about the quality of learning being imparted inside. Armed with the mandate of the Delhi electorate, AAP needs to have a clear multi-pronged strategy for turning around the MCD schools, which have arguably suffered at the hands of the previous government.While the AAP has vehemently claimed that MCD schools are in shambles and lack basic facilities, the Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE) data conveys a different story. According to the 2021-22 report, all MCD schools in Delhi have a functioning toilet, library, computers and electricity. Since the report is silent on the safety and hygiene observed inside the premises, and anecdotal evidence seems to refute some of the U-DISE claims, an audit is urgently needed to validate these findings and fulfill the infrastructure requirements wherever needed.

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However, the drive to reform schools must not stop at improving the physical infrastructure and needs to focus on two more crucial aspects, namely personnel issues and learning outcomes. One of the long-pending issues of MCD schools has been the repeated delay in payments of salaries to the staff. This needs to be addressed without further ado. The erstwhile civic body government had repeatedly accused the state government of stalling the allocation of funds resulting in non-payment of salaries. Given that AAP is now in-charge of both the state government and the municipality, the lack of funds disbursal should no longer be used as an excuse to delay salaries to school employees. One also hopes that inadequate funds would not become the reason to hold up the recruitment of teachers and non-teaching staff, since the issue of understaffing was one of the concerns raised by the AAP during its election campaign.

Most importantly, though, the AAP needs to have a focused approach toward the improvement of learning levels. This is even more significant, given that MCD schools mostly cater to primary school students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds. Foundational literacy and numeracy skills, if not developed during the formative years, can become a huge challenge for the students to learn later, resulting in high dropout and apathy towards education, hence restricting opportunities for socio-economic mobility. As the National Education Policy (2020) document rightly identifies, proficiency in foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) is a must-have, without which all other education reforms are meaningless.

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The Foundational Learning Study conducted in September this year revealed that more than half of the surveyed class 3 students of Delhi schools do not meet global proficiency standards in numeracy and Hindi language comprehension. The National Achievement Survey (2021) also found that more than 50% of class 3 students in Delhi's government-managed primary schools were unable to answer questions in language and arithmetic correctly. Clearly, foundational learning needs to become a key priority for the newly elected office-bearers going forward.

One of the ways to improve foundational learning is to provide timely remedial instruction and allow students to catch up on basic skills before mechanically tiding them over to the next class. Much can be learned from the nuanced approach taken by Maharashtra's IAS officer Jitendra Dudi who initiated a comprehensive learning assessment of each student in his district to implement the Learning Improvement Programme, with support from the Pratham Foundation. This initiative saw impressive learning gains among the students within six months of its implementation. Collaboration with non-profits for knowledge-sharing and implementation of similar programs will be vital in remedying the learning crisis looming over the 8.7 lakh students studying at MCD schools.

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The AAP must recognize the huge responsibility it has. One, towards its electorate to fulfill its promises, and two, to strengthen its own image of being among the few political parties with education on its agenda. This is the chance to transform the 1600 MCD schools along the lines of the state government-led schools and drive the adoption of the much-feted Delhi education model throughout India. Leaders of the AAP will need to rise above political bickering and work hand-in-glove with the Centre’s education initiatives such as the NIPUN! mission and DIKSHA to truly deliver a world-class education to the citizens of Delhi.

(Dr Parul Gupta is Research Consultant at Sattva Knowledge Institute and Rajeev Parashar is Research Scholar at Shiv Nadar University.)


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